Live: In Conversation – Jenny Kaufman: Part I

Jenny Kaufman

Head of Digital Strategy, Terrorbird Media

Every month Byta’s founder, Marc Brown,  sits down for an in-depth one-to-one Zoom conversation with someone who provides deep music industry insights and tips. 

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation is designed to deliver the knowledge to enable tomorrow’s artists and industry leaders to better manoeuvre their way through the music ecosystem. 

This episode’s guest was the Head of Digital Strategy at Terrorbird Media, Jenny Kaufman. Jenny’s role there centres around helping artists and their teams with digital release strategy and playlist pitching. Jenny offers up a bucket full of insights and tips.

Streaming & playlist mythbusting for artists

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Jenny Kaufman was held virtually on May 25th, 2021 and presented in partnership with Terrorbird Media, a tight-knit family of skilled music industry professionals with impeccable taste, unmatched authenticity, and a passion for marketing and promotion. Plus, it is where Jenny works. 

Our venue was Baby’s All Right, one of Jenny’s favourite spots in Brooklyn, with one of the most recognizable stages in North America. 

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Part I of III

In part I, Marc asks Jenny how and where she got started in the music business. They get into strategies for lead times, team building and how it all affects your goals and plans when releasing your music.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. 

Marc Brown: Hello. How are you?

Jenny Kaufman: I’m good, hanging in there. You know, big Tuesday here in New York. I am here at Baby’s All Right, which is a venue I haven’t been to in over a year, which is in South Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It’s been around for about eight years. And I’ve probably been coming here for all eight of those years because I’ve lived here for decades. And no one else is in here other than me and my friend Greg, who opened the venue for me. So it’s a bit less populated than it would normally be. But it’s lovely to be here. 

Marc Brown: So, are those like small lights? 

Jenny Kaufman: They’re bottles! Actually, I happen to know a bit about the bottle wall. And it’s pretty iconic, I would argue, in New York. This is one of those venues where, because the background is so distinct, if you see a photo of a band playing, you know that it’s here. It’s all bottles, and they’re all filled with lights. 

Marc Brown: Who have you seen play? 

Jenny Kaufman: Actually, this is a good story. I used to work at a record label called Glassnote Records. Maggie Rogers, when I first came here, opened for one of the other artists that we worked with. She has since been nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys, and it was awesome. It was long before Maggie was on that trajectory. I’ve seen tons of artists here. I’ve seen DJ sets here. I’ve been to dance parties here. It’s like, by far, one of the best places to be in New York.

Marc Brown: And are they one of the ones opening up? (re COVID)

Jenny Kaufman: I was just talking to Greg about that, actually. The USA recently passed the Save our Stages Act. The act, for those of you who are not American and are not tapped into the particular legislation surrounding the pandemic, was a very long-form effort to create funding specifically for the arts, music venues, and performance venues. Outside of government loans, called PPP loans, they wanted to do loans specifically geared towards performance spaces, and Save our Stages was passed. There’s been a bit of a process to apply for those loans, but as soon as those things kind of shake out, I think Baby’s and other venues around the city will be able to take stock of what’s possible, but apparently, they have been booking shows for September. So great.

Marc Brown: Well, it’s super nice to open up. It’s great. So why don’t we talk about you? Because we’re not here necessarily to talk about venues and stuff. We’re here to talk about streaming. Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell everyone about what you do and where you work? And then how you got to be there? I like to talk a lot about Here and There. So, where someone is, and where do they want to go? I think people are always curious to know how you ended up where you are.

Jenny Kaufman: I work at an excellent music marketing company called Terrorbird Media. Terrorbird offers a variety of services to artists. We have a traditional press department. We have a radio department, we have a sync licensing department, a publishing department and offer a lot of other things. One of those departments is the one that I run, which is a digital strategy department. We focus on pitching new releases to digital stores such as Apple Music and Spotify for consideration for approval. That programming may take the form of playlisting. That also includes playlist covers, and that also includes potential marketing opportunities. So really, just getting the music in front of those curators and tastemakers and hope that they consider it for those sorts of looks. 

I’ve been here for three years now, and I work in the department with my manager, Sabrina,. And she’s awesome. She’s really helped us expand the amount of work we can do and the volume that we’re capable of pitching on a week-to-week basis. Prior to Terrorbird, I was at Glassnote Records, which I mentioned earlier, for around three years. During that time, I was doing a similar thing in digital, as well as doing more digital marketing. So digital marketing, meaning direct to fan work, which is social media posts, website updates, things of that nature, as well as pitching these digital stores. I’ve been in New York for a decade. I moved here for undergrad. I’ve been working professionally in the music industry for seven years. It’s been a wild ride. But I love it. I will say that being at Terrorbird has been a super rewarding and valuable experience. Not just because I was able to run something and start something and really learn how to create a service, but also because of the great, diverse, interesting dynamic team that I work with.

Marc Brown: So, how did you get your job at Glassnote? Was that your first proper music business job? How did you pull that off? That’s pretty impressive. 

Jenny Kaufman: It was not a bad place to start. I will say, admittedly, it took a very long time for me to get a job after college. And I’d interned my way through school. I interned at The Fader for a while. Then I was at Beggars Group, at XL Recordings. Breaking into the music industry, I think, just doesn’t always come easy. It required a lot of tenacity and having the mentors that I’d had along the way to help me, you know, push my career forward. But I wasn’t being picky. I will say that it was the first job I was offered. It was great, and I had a really amazing mentor, Steph Shim, who really taught me about digital. I think that has been the most valuable thing for me, having people who believe in me and want to teach me and want me to grow. That’s been exponential in my career.

Marc Brown: Now, speaking of teaching, I’m assuming you do a lot of teaching, in the sense that you must work with a lot of newer artists but bigger labels. The bigger labels know what they’re doing, or the bigger managers or artists who have had some experience, but then you must work with a lot of newer bands. 

Jenny Kaufman: Yeah, absolutely. We work with a wide variety of artists. I would say, maybe 50% are signed to a label, and 50% are unsigned. Even when you work with a label that is established, to your point, maybe a manager may not be as well informed about digital specifically. There are tons of nuances to digital. It’s not a personal reflection on them as much as things are changing so fast. Unless you’re paying super close attention, it’s very hard to stay current and know what’s going on. Because there are so many steps to the pitch process, as well as so many different places where your music can be positioned, there are often a lot of questions or clarification about the best way to go about things and strategy. So there’s definitely a lot of education. 

Marc Brown: This playlist stuff comes up all the time. And, you know, I’m not completely sure that I understand the way it works. I know that lots of artists talk about knowing what’s important, but then they don’t know what they should be doing. Can we talk about the timeline or what you think about when you meet a new artist, and you’re like, “oh, they’re awesome, I want to work with them”? How do you start with that kind of stuff?

Jenny Kaufman: It’s interesting, in general, because there are kind of two parts. One part is how do you start, and one part is when do you start working with a service like ours? 

I guess they kind of go hand in hand. There is a real value to gaining fans organically and beginning to really engage online. Ideally, in the future, to be able to play more shows and be engaged in your artistic community, wherever you are. Because ultimately, streaming, though there is a bit of curation and editorial, which is where my pitching comes in, there’s a lot of data that they (“they”, meaning people at Spotify, for example) rely on to make decisions and that definitely informs how they operate, curate playlists, when they launch a playlist, how they launch it, how they brand it. All of those things. 

So a great way to get organic traction on Spotify or anywhere is just to begin engaging on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. That engagement looks like posting and posting to an audience or commenting on other people’s posts. But on a place like Spotify, the only way you can engage with the audience is by uploading music. So you have to begin there. I think a lot of people want to release something and hope that it blows up. But just like on social media, it’s all about building over time. It’s about consistently continually engaging and seeing what comes up. And to answer your question about when to address us? We do usually look for a few of those things to be in place before we come on board for a project. The main reason is that services cost money, right? We want you to get the most bang for your buck. We want you to see value out of this service or any service that you hire. And often, we just want to make sure you’re in the best position to get a return on your money or to get the results that you’re hoping for. 

That’s the big thing. You have to begin on your own. Self-releasing some music, beginning to play shows, beginning to engage the artistic community. And keep in mind, even if you can’t do that in person at a show, you can do that online via DMs. You can say, “Hey, I’m a big fan of your band, what are you up to? Are you guys recording? Are you guys planning on playing any shows that sort of thing?” Ironically, the way you start is often building out your profile and then coming to us.

Marc Brown: That’s the name of the game. You have to get your music to people long before you’re ready to release it. Even with a lot of larger labels, there is this idea that you need to get certain things at certain times. I knew a lot of newer artists who don’t necessarily understand that. 

For example, I’ve got this friend who works at CD Baby in Canada. He was telling me that he gets emails from people on a Friday that says, “I need my music out by next week.” I’m assuming that’s the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. Is that not correct? What are you supposed to do?

Jenny Kaufman: I think if you’re looking to bring on teams, I would look to service your music at least two months out. The reason is, that I typically like to service music around three weeks in advance so that it gets in people’s hands and they have some time to listen to it and engage with it and program it ahead of time. But also, if you’re hiring services, our calendars are usually booked one to two months in advance. So even though I may have enough advance time to service your music, I’ve already committed to other records and can’t take it on. 

If you’re looking to hire teams and bring them on to start engaging, I recommend two to three months in advance, minimum. In terms of servicing, and when we actually flag it with other people in the industry, it’s usually three weeks in advance. A week’s lead time isn’t enough. 

Marc Brown: Explain why there’s this lead time because I think it is something that a lot of artists don’t understand. It’s like, the music is there, you can get it out right away. Why don’t you just get it out and build it up? Why are there these timelines that everybody sort of loosely works to?

Jenny Kaufman:  A lot of it is about coordination and strategy. Terrorbird may be available, but the publicist you’re looking to hire may not be available. It’s about giving yourself the best opportunity to create the best team possible in advance of releasing the music. 

Well, why is team building important? Team building would be important if that’s the step of the career that you’re at because you want to give your music the best possible chance of being heard and succeeding. It’s about relationship building. It’s my job to have relationships with the people who could get your music heard and who the music would resonate with. With that in mind, those timelines are there to create a buffer so that those teams you’ve hired have enough time to service your music. There are 60,000 tracks uploaded a day to Spotify, and you’re competing with them. Same thing with all of those records, right? Not just for you as an artist but for us as your team. And we’re all on the same team, right? So servicing this music in advance just gives us the best possible chance that they will have the time to listen to it. Point blank.

Marc Brown: So, three weeks upfront? Do you just email people and say, “here’s another record to listen to”? 

Jenny Kaufman: There are multiple pronged approaches, I would say. 

In the case of all digital stores, or I will call them DSPs, the main way we communicate with them is via email servicing. If you’re familiar with traditional press and how PR works, they will send a press release to writers or curators. What we’re doing looks very similar to a press release. It has your press photo, the date of the release, the title, a link to listen to, and then a lot of additional contexts. We like to put it in there so that people get to understand the project as much as they can. This can provide context and include press, press history, tour history, upcoming tour plans (if that does exist), upcoming press plans, your bio, and any sort of context around the release. If you have a notable producer or any notable features, all of that stuff will be included in that email. And then, at the top of it, there’s a bit of a personalized note that we create to say why you should care about this artist. A reformatting all of that information in a more digestible paragraph form. That’s kind of the bulk of what we’re doing. 

In addition to that, some of you may be familiar with the Spotify for Artists tool, which is a tool that gives you access to all of the backend data about how your music is performing on Spotify. As part of that tool, they have a playlist submission form. So that’s the other part of our pitching is we do the email servicing, but, depending on the client, we will also do that Spotify for Artists pitch form for them.

Want to keep reading? Head to Part II here!